Public WiFi Community Engagement Findings

In October 2019 the City of Greater Geelong’s Smart City Office engaged with the community to better understand internet connectivity- uses, gaps and future opportunities. 


Results suggest that a digital divide exists and appears to be greater in our Northern suburbs. Digital inclusion exists when an individual can make full use of digital technologies to manage their health and wellbeing, access education & services, organise their finances, and connect with friends, family, and the world beyond (Digital Inclusion Score 2019). When a person has inadequate access it can therefore have wide-ranging detrimental effects. As cost is a significant barrier for some, the provision of free public WiFi is an important component of lessening the digital divide. These learnings will help to inform the plan to improve and expand the free public WiFi network in 2020 and beyond.

How we engaged (methods & when)

The survey was made available on The City of Greater Geelong’s online community engagement page, Your Say, throughout October 2019. It was promoted via email link to partners and networks, community centres, libraries and service providers, as well as being posted to social pages including Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. External service providers were also encouraged to post to their social accounts. To ensure harder to reach groups and those with limited internet access could still participate, hard copy surveys were delivered to libraries, community centres and charitable organisations including the Salvation Army and the Uniting Church. A prize draw was used to incentivise participation and two community barbeques were hosted at centres. Free coffee vouchers further incentivised participation and facilitated informal discussions.


Who we engaged (demographics)

Representation of responses across suburbs was fairly evenly spread however a higher representation in Corio and Norlane must be acknowledged. This was likely due to the targeting of services in these areas to ensure the survey captured the views of people who may have limited access to the internet. The three most represented suburbs were Corio 15%, Norlane 10% and Grovedale 6%.    

The reported gender of respondents was female (62%) male (36%) and prefer not to say (2%). Primary language spoken was overwhelmingly English (97%). This was predicted given the survey was only available in English. The City is committed to making it easier for non-English speakers to participate in engagement and share their views in the future. An online engagement platform with the ability to translate is being explored in 2019-20. Ages were mostly evenly represented. The largest group of respondents was 35-49 years and the smallest was 85+.

- under 18, 6%
- 18-24, 10%
- 25-34, 14%
- 35-49, 31%
- 50-59, 18%
- 60-69, 14%
- 70-84, 7%
- 85+, 0.6%

The 2016 census reported that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in Geelong made up 2% of the total population (ABS, 2016). This survey had 2% of responses from people who identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, indicating good representation for the population. However considering the correlation between low socio-economic status, the digital divide and the health gap experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in communities all around Australia, it would have been beneficial for this group to be better represented to gain further understanding of their experience with internet access and digital literacy.

Who we engaged (demographics)

What we heard (responses)


Devices- how do people connect?

The majority of survey respondents access the internet via their smartphone (88%) evidence of the dominance of the smartphone today. Other responses to ‘which devices are you currently using to access the internet?’ in order from highest to lowest were ‘home desktop/laptop’ 429 people (76%), ‘tablet’ 290 people (52%), ‘smart TV’ 231 people (41%), ‘work desktop/laptop’ 205 people (36%) and ‘library/ public computer’ 98 people (17%). Respondents could choose more than one answer.

Devices- how do people connect?


Locations- where do people connect?

In this question respondents were asked where they commonly access the internet from. Results show that whilst the majority access the internet from home, a significant number use the internet when visiting public spaces such as community centres or libraries and when dining out. This indicates a desire and need for public WiFi. The following responses are in descending order (respondents could choose more than one response).

- at home, 544 people (93%)
- at work, 288 people (49%)
- at a community centre or library, 228 people (39%)
- at a café or hotel, 177 people (30%)
- at school/ University/ Tafe, 117 people (20%)
- those who reported not accessing the internet, 13 people (2%) 


Internet access at home

Respondents were asked if they had an internet connection at home (ADSL/ NBN). The vast majority reported ‘yes’, 497 people (89%). Those who indicated ‘no’ were asked why and half responded, because ‘I can’t afford it’ - 31 people (51%). This is evidence of a digital divide in our community which access to free public WiFi can help to alleviate. The highest number of respondents were located in Norlane (41%) and Corio (11%) which indicates geographic areas where the need may be greater. This is validation of research which correlates the digital divide with socio-economic status (Thomas et al. 2019). A number of respondents indicated they don’t have the internet at home because they don’t need it, 14 people (23%). This could indicate that people are accessing internet through their mobile phone data, whilst at work, or at public WiFi locations.


Activities- why are people online?

The primary response to ‘what do you mostly use the internet for?’ was ‘social media’, 349 people (63%) followed by ‘personal emails’, 303 people (54%) and ‘work emails’, 197 people (35%). Other popular answers were ‘streaming videos’, 171 people (31%) and general information searching, 128 people (23%) (respondents were asked to choose their top three answers). This was true for all age groups under 60. For those aged over 60 years the top response was ‘personal emails’. This is evidence of the growing societal dependence on social media which people rely on to stay connected. However when asked what impacts internet use, 15% chose a ‘desire to disconnect/ limit screen time’ 84 people and a ‘concern with privacy’ 158 people (29%) both topical social issues which may over time influence this behaviour. Other concerns included ‘speed of the connection’ 385 people (71%) and ‘cost of the internet’ 272 people (50%).

Activities- why are people online


Effects of limited access

When people don’t have adequate access to the internet they can be negatively affected. When asked if limited (or no) access to the internet affects their ability to do any of the following, 167 people (53%) said ‘connect with family/friends...’ This was followed by ‘access government sites…’ 211 people (42%) followed by ‘study for school, university, Tafe’ 134 people (27%) and ‘apply for work’ 124 people (25%). This is further evidence of a digital divide in our community and the gap between those who have adequate access and those who do not. Those who are already disadvantaged in our community may be further disadvantaged by not being able to seek work, develop new skills and stay connected.

Effects of limited access


Awareness of WiFi locations

This engagement has highlighted the need to improve the promotion of free public WiFi availability across the City as 244 people (42%) said they were not aware Geelong offered free public WiFi. Furthermore, when asked why they don’t currently utilise it, 66 people said they didn’t know where it was located. It is clear from responses that cost is a major consideration when choosing internet options as 298 people (53%) told us they choose to use WiFi when it’s free or cheaper than other options. Furthermore, when asked if they would consider paying for extra data (on top of the free allowance) 411 people (75%) said ‘no’. This is strong evidence that more people would benefit from free Public WiFi, particularly when they can’t afford internet, if it were more widely promoted.


Future WiFi location preferences

Respondents indicated a desire for ubiquitous WiFi coverage across all public locations. The City does not have jurisdiction over all locations yet is in the position to advocate on behalf of our community for locations including train stations and shopping centres. 

- Community centre/library, 346 people (62%)
- Shopping centre, 33 people (60%)
- Train station, 311 people (55%)
- Café/ restaurant/hotel, 290 people (52%)
- Park/ other outdoor public space, 284 people (50%)
- Main shopping street, 245 people (44%)
- Sporting reserve/ recreation facility, 182 people (32%)

Awareness of WiFi locations


Digital literacy- what skills do people seek?

Digital inclusion is not just about internet access, it also necessitates a level of digital literacy- the knowledge and skills to be able to use and benefit from the internet. When asked what people would like to learn to improve their digital skills the following answers were chosen (in order from highest to lowest, respondents were asked to choose all that apply).

- How to access my myGov, Centrelink, NDIS etc, 72 people (13%)
- How to complete online job applications, 57 people (10%)
- How to use a smartphone, 51 people (9%)
- How to use a laptop/ PC computer, 45 people (8%)
- How to use a tablet, 35 people (6%)
- How to use email/ social media, 34 people (6%)


Next steps- where to from here?

This engagement has helped to shape the plan for improving the free public WiFi in Geelong to ensure more people can benefit, particularly those who are negatively affected by not having adequate access. It will enable us to complete the following tangible activities in 2020:

- A comprehensive public WiFi promotion plan, targeting those with cost as a barrier to adequate access
- Advocate to services and within council on the importance of digital skill development and support
- Advocate to organisations and service providers on the importance of public WiFi availability
- Develop a plan to expand the public WiFi locations in the City and Northern Suburbs of Geelong

Page last updated: Thursday, 23 July 2020